Socialism: What is it and why do we need it? by Graham Harrington Apr27


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Socialism: What is it and why do we need it? by Graham Harrington

Socialism is a system whereby the means of production, distribution and exchange are publicly owned and used for the benefit of society as a whole. In English, this means that the natural resources of a country (oil, land, gas, water), the infrastructure (power stations, roads) as well as the commanding heights of the economy (the large industries, factories and essentially anything that produces anything on a large scale) are owned by the state. However, this is not the same as what we currently recognise in Ireland as state ownership. Under Socialism, the working class, i.e. the vast majority of society who do the vast majority of the work, take ownership of the state and make the decisions through a direct, participatory democracy, such as in Cuba. This ensures that the production and distribution of goods and services is done to meet the needs of people rather than for the profits of a small elite in society. I’ll explain this in more detail later on.

Socialism would be ideal for Ireland. We possess a hugely skilled and educated workforce, have decent natural resources and we have excellent access to raw materials for production. For instance, we have a lot of rain here in Ireland, which is quite obviously a huge nuisance. However, under a democratically planned economy, we could develop ideas on the harnessing of rainwater which could be used to provide water services for everybody in Ireland without having to worry about water conservation. Under the current Capitalist system, this wouldn’t be done until it would become profitable and as we know, privatising water services is far more profitable than making clean, renewable water available for everyone.

Our natural resources are privatised and given to foreign multi-national companies such as Shell to make a gigantic profit on, with only a small portion going back to the Irish people. This is an insult to the generations of Irish people who fought for Irish freedom. The Proclamation of the Irish Republic clearly states: “We declare the right of the Irish people to the ownership of Ireland.” I don’t see where it says “the right of a foreign company to the ownership of Ireland.” Of course, the common response to this is that we do not have the same machinery, equipment and money companies like Shell have that would allow us to extract and use our resources. This is true but the reason for it is our government, and those who pull their strings, don’t want us to. A socialist government would make the necessary investment in machinery and labour which could allow us to harness these resources. How many are unemployed in the west of Ireland and would jump at the chance to work in such an important industry?

Forestry is one of the most viable of all our industries and is worth millions. It could provide sustainable, cheap and environmentally friendly materials and energy as well as employment yet the Irish forestry company, Coillte, receives very little funding. Why? Because it isn’t profitable. A State Development Corporation would be directed by the working class to harness and develop all our resources for the benefit of the community.

Socialism would free up billions of money for use in the provision of public services as well. If we abolished the current odious debt the bankers and politicians have forced on us then we could have billions available. The way it stands now, the billionaires and millionaires in our society have amassed vast quantities of wealth which they keep secure in banks or gamble on the stock market, investing nothing in the economy. A state bank, under the control of the workers’ state, would take over this money for the interests of the people.

These two acts could immediately make billions of money available. Rather than having austerity and cutbacks, we could improve wages, make education and healthcare free and decrease transportation costs. State projects, such as the socialization of natural resources already mentioned, would eliminate unemployment. We could save money on social welfare because of this and re-invest money into providing childcare services, cultural and sporting institutions, housing for everybody, transport and communication services. Wages in a socialist society would be according to one’s labour, not one’s position on the social ladder.

Crime would decrease due to jobs being made available which could save money on security costs.
Industrialisation, the building up of Irish industries, an Irish computer company, an Irish medical company, rather than depending on foreign MNCs, would make us less dependent on outside influences such as foreign companies, the EU and IMF, institutions which have no regard for the Irish working class and would allow us to become more self-sufficient and independent. It would also decrease our dependence on cheap Third World labour which exploits workers in these countries for the benefit of robotic consumerism.

Small and medium businesses would continue to exist but would be subject to the workers’ democracy. Wage and price controls as well as strict labour laws would ensure the rights of workers. Also, the owners of these businesses would face less pressure from landlords looking for rent, bankers looking for money owed or having to worry about a large company coming in and taking its business overnight. This would reduce the amount of stress they face and allow them a more productive relationship with the workers. Ultimately, the interests of these people would largely be in line with that of the working class. Co-operatives and other worker-owned industries would be encouraged. A progressive tax on agricultural production as well as the development of agri-business would ensure there is enough food for the population and for trade while allowing farmers a decent income as well as ensuring production is based more on need and not made up of large-scale ranching which damages the environment and hurts small farmers on top of keeping prices high.

Under a Socialist Republic, all citizens will have the opportunity to participate in the running of the country. Our current system only leads to corruption, bureaucracy and incompetence among public officials who are completely disconnected from reality. This democracy would mean a decision-making council in every town, city and province in Ireland. Take your local residents’ association: you meet and discuss things but you don’t have any real power. At most all you can do is lobby your local councillor who maybe, just maybe, might just bring it up at a council meeting, which can, at most, pass a small act which can grant small concessions such as footpaths and so on.

In a Socialist society, the alternative is quite simple. Your local town would have its regular meetings, with all citizens encouraged to attend. Residents will meet and discuss the pressing local issues and vote on solutions. When passed, it will be put forward to the authorities, in this case, a city-wide assembly of all citizens and again voted on, with all attendant citizens having a vote. Obviously, this depend on the issue, a debate on providing footpaths in the south side of Cork will hardly be debated on the northside of the city. The local councils will be given sufficient resources themselves so, after it has been given the go ahead by citizens, they can solve the problems immediately and independently.

For nation-wide issues, there will be a provincial or country-wide vote. Obviously, you can’t have millions of people attending a vote in a single area so representatives will have to be elected. However, there will exist a right of recall, at any time, of any representative who is not performing to the satisfaction of the community. This cuts down on corruption, opportunism and incompetence and solidifies democracy.

Overall, this will encourage interest in politics and increase the feeling of community among citizens. A national service,not just military service but also a compulsory involvement in local community and state projects, will increase participation in the economy among citizens. Youth organisations will create a greater sense of fraternity and solidarity among the young and provide us with activities.They will be more like broad friendship associations rather than regular youth clubs. Various similar organisations will be set up so that each citizen can participate – those who work together, live nearby, go to the same college etc. The emphasis will be on creating a bond between people and a sense of comradeship, a far cry from the detachment and isolation we face today in the world of smartphones, social cliques and emigration.

This thinking isn’t idealistic. The Socialist model of economics and society was once present in a quarter of the world, from Africa to Europe, to Latin America, to Asia, to varying levels of success. To give some examples, Burkina Faso under president Thomas Sankara was one of Africa’s poorest countries until socialism, when it had one of the largest transformations in African history, with the standard of living skyrocketing. Socialist Cuba has the most involvement of citizens in the state and economy in the world, as well as the best healthcare system and one of the best education systems in the world. Socialism was the economic system that allowed the USSR to beat the Nazis almost single-handedly. In modern day Latin America, more and more countries are turning to Socialism.

Venezuela under Hugo Chavez adopted socialism only around a decade ago,in the early 2000s. Since then, poverty levels, illiteracy, wealth inequality and other social ills have decreased rapidly while citizens are increasingly becoming involved in politics in a region where the poor previously had no voice. This has spread to Ecuador, Bolivia and is encouraging people in countries such as Brazil,Argentina and Colombia to demand revolution. The environment, rising global wealth inequality, rising social tensions, war constantly being present, the amount of starving people increasing daily and other evils all make the advancement of Socialism inevitable.

As Rosa Luxemburg said, “It is Socialism or Barbarism!”

For further reading I would recommend the pamphlets “ An Economy For The Common Good” published by the Communist Party of Ireland, “ Forward Together Ireland” published by the Connolly Youth Movement and “Socialism Made Easy” by James Connolly.